5 Tips for Engaging Number Talks

What are Number Talks?

Number talks, also known as math talks, are a short time frame dedicated to have purposely crafted talks about math.  During these talks, teachers provide opportunities for students to have open-ended discussions that build mental math, fluency, number sense, and confidence.

As the kids share their mental computation, or thoughts about the given problem, you, the teacher, will record and encourage further discussions.

The kids not only improve their ability to think about numbers, measurement, shapes, and operations, but also build communication skills.

5 Tips for Doing Math Talks

Yes, I’ll admit, doing number talks required me to step out of my comfort zone and shift my traditional teacher mindset.  As I mentioned in my blog post, How To Do Math Talks in Kindergarten, I worked on encouraging rather than correcting. Once I got the hang of things, it was as though the kids’ learning improved, our classroom community was stronger, and their expressive language was stronger than ever!

Us teachers love to keep track of every minute throughout our day.  We can’t help it.  We have a lot of kids to keep on schedule, and a lot of lessons to be taught. For just one morning or one afternoon, I want you to not worry about time.

Sure, I know you have to keep an eye on time to get to specials, lunch, and dismissal.  But, for this activity, you’re going to forget that you have to start language arts in 10 minutes.


When we stop rushing the kids to find the correct answers, and allow time for discussion, we learn SO MUCH about their understanding of mathematics.  Once we learn their true understanding and processes, we can teach more effectively.

If you’re ready for this amazing learning experience, here are 5 tips to help you get started with number talks:


1. Establish rules for number talks 

Before starting your math talks, set clear expectations for participation from everyone.  Have a discussion with the students about listening when others are speaking, not blurting out, and respecting others thinking.

Encourage students to think before rushing to share their thoughts.  To do this, you can use a timer, or wireless doorbell, to signal when think time is up.  Once the signal is given, those who are ready to share can give a quiet signal.


“Quiet signals” are an important factor of number talks. An example of a “quiet signal” would be to give a thumbs up close to their chest.  Typically, once other students begin raising their hands, those who are still thinking automatically give up.   Whereas, when a student gives a thumbs up close to their chest, it doesn’t become a visual distraction or make others feel as though they weren’t fast enough.


2. Keep math talks short

Number talks should last between 5-15 minutes.  Some teachers incorporate number talks as an introduction into to their math lessons, while others like to use them during transitions.

As a kindergarten teacher, I preferred doing my math talks during morning meeting, or immediately following lunch and recess.  Regardless of what time of day you do number talks, keep them short and do them daily!



3. Ask open-ended questions for Math Talks

Number talks are not formal math lessons.  Instead, this is a designated time where kids should be encouraged to explore, reason, and engage.  The questions being asked do not have a one answer solution. Below are examples of open-ended questions.   

  • “What can you tell me about…?”
  • “Would you rather ____?  Why?”
  • “How do you know…?”
  • “Is there another way to solve this?


4. Math Talks Should Question Rather Than Correct

In my opinion, this is the most important factor when doing number talks with kids.  Never say no! No matter how off-the-wall a student’s answer is, never make them feel as if their answer is wrong.

Question their thinking rather than correct their answers.  “Through our questions, we seek to understand students’ thinking.”  (Humphreys, Cathy, 2015).  Ask questions such as:

  • Can you show me how you got that answer?
  • Can you explain why you think _________?
  • Did anyone come up with a different answer?
  • Thank you for sharing.  Would anyone else like to share their thoughts?
  • Look again. Could there be another possibility?


5.  Provide Clear Visuals

Over the years, I have seen teachers use a variety of tools when presenting their daily math talks.  Whichever you choose, make sure the students have a clear, visual, cue of what is being asked.  For example, when asking students to share what they know about an array of dots, pictures, or a tens-frame dot card, they need to be able to see the picture in clear view.  I like to display the math talks on the smart board to assure every child can see the problem clearly.

Visual references around the room, such as number lines and number cards, offer support for the kids.  For example, if they are trying to express their thoughts, but can’t think of the number….they may be able to recall it once seeing it around the room.  The more we can build their confidence, the more comfortable they will feel expressing their mental math over the years to come.




My awesome friend, Beth, uses my Daily Math Talk Cards for her kindergarten number talks.  You can watch the video below to see how she incorporates some of these tips into her lesson. Rather than using the small cards, she chose to use the slides that are also included in my Daily Math Talk Cards resource.



“I love how these questions are so open ended! Thank you!” (Andrea D.)


Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade Math Talks

Kindergarten Math Talks

First Grade Math Talks

Second Grade Math Talks


To be effective, number talks should have clear rules and expectations, kept within a short time frame, ask open-ended questions, never reject a students reasoning, and provide clear visuals.  Through the process of reasoning, teachers are given an invaluable opportunity to assess the students true understanding of mathematics through daily math talks. 

Use these math talks in combination with the Counting to 100 rote counting assessment to monitor students math progress in kindergarten. 


Before you go, here are a few blog posts you may enjoy:

35 Fun Ideas for Indoor Recess

Using a 100’s Chart for Rote Counting 

4 Easy Steps to Start a Teacher Blog

115 Top Picks for Poem of the Day



Number Talks